Whilst the idea of micro-chipping workers can sound like the stuff of science fiction, there is a suggestion that this could become a common business practice in the near future. It’s an area as yet unchallenged by case law. Peninsula Group Operations Director and employment law expert Alan Price considers the issues for UK employers:
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) have recently expressed their concern over the growing number of employers choosing to microchip their staff, which enables them to check into work, log onto computers and open secure doors with the wave of a hand. Although the UK legal system remains unchallenged in this regard, there are a number of considerations for employers to keep in mind.
Generally speaking, employers can set rules on whatever they like with relevant workplace policies, however, any rules set must be reasonable and proportionate. With this in mind, it is unlikely that any attempts to force staff into being microchipped will be considered reasonable when tested in court. Employees are likely to argue that any obligation to be microchipped is an unnecessary invasion of privacy, meaning organisations who wish to implement this practice may have to make it optional.
It is also unlikely that an employer will be able to convince a tribunal that mandatory microchipping staff is reasonable, especially where their main purpose is to monitor staff arrival and departure times or grant them access to secure doors. This is because there are already suitable alternatives in place such as CCTV cameras, time sheets and electronic security fobs which are less intrusive for staff.
Even where microchipping is optional, employers should avoid situations where staff are instructed or pressured to comply, as this could potentially lead to resignations and subsequent claims of constructive unfair dismissal. There may also be religious or other personal beliefs to consider that prohibit the implantation of microchips in some employees, leading to potential unlawful discrimination claims.
In the event that employees do agree to be microchipped there is then the question of who pays for the chip. Given the government’s recent crackdown on national minimum wage (NMW) offenders, it is advisable for employers to foot the bill themselves, thereby avoiding any scenario where subsequent wage deductions take employees’ salaries below the NMW.
Employers should also consider how microchipping staff would impact their attempts to comply with general data protection regulations (GDPR), ensuring they can point to a lawful basis for processing data and that this is not kept on file for an unnecessary period of time.
There is also a discussion to be had around what happens to the chip when employees leave the business. Other employer-owned equipment, such as phones and security passes, are traditionally returned once employment is terminated. However, it remains to be seen if the same rules will apply to microchips and what rights employers have if staff refuse to have these removed, potentially resulting in security risks.
It will certainly be interesting to see how the law interprets microchipping staff as the practice becomes more widespread. However, as with any new initiative, employers should consider if any substantial risks outweigh the potential benefits.